How To: Become A Music Supervisor

Love music? Love TV? You can work in both! Our friends over at the BPI – that’s the people who look after UK record companies and run The BRIT Awards – were in Los Angeles lately (yes, LA!) on a mission to promote British music.

But this wasn’t any ordinary mission. Oh no. This was to meet the top people in Hollywood studios who were looking for music for TV programmes, movies, video games, and advertisements. Who knew that was even a job? But it is. And Hollywood has a whole industry based on it.

The people responsible for finding music to put on TV programmes, movies, video games and the like are called “music supervisors”. The BPI’s Lynne McDowell caught up with one of them, Gemma Dempsey, to find out more.

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Gemma has worked in the area of film soundtracks and radio production for over 20 years, both in London and Los Angeles. Her credits include Oscar-winning epics ‘The Last Emperor’, ‘Leaving Las Vegas’ and Danny Boyle’s debut ‘Shallow Grave’.  She moved from London to Los Angeles in 1994 where she moved into radio production at KCRW Radio in Santa Monica. In 2000, she set up the Los Angeles office for Spinner.com, as part of AOL Music (Time Warner), which created music content for the telecommunications giant. Back in the UK, Gemma worked at Chrysalis Music and then Kobalt Music as Head of Synchronization. Her responsibilities included clearing requests for use in films and television productions, as well as actively looking for opportunities for the singer /songwriters and composers on the company’s roster. She now splits her time between LA and London, working on a number of music supervisor roles.

So, Gemma, what is the role of a music supervisor? 

“A music supervisor is the person who coordinates all aspects of finding and placing music to a specific production (movie or TV programme, for example). This includes making suggestions for songs or tracks, researching songs that are available, liaising with the people who own the songs to ensure they can be used (this process is called ‘clearance’) and to make sure the right people get paid for their music being used. Music supervisors will also make sure the music is purchased within the right budget and that enough music is acquired to cover all the creative and production needs.”

What is the best part of your job?

“It’s great when you find a song you love by an artist you love and you get your director to agree to use it. You are then able to pay the artist a fair amount for the license.”

What is the worst part of the job?

“It’s a super job but it is frustrating when you have a low budget and members of the production come up with suggestions you can’t afford or have terrible creative ideas!”

What sort of person is suited to the job?

“You need to have good ears, patience, diplomacy, and tact. It’s important to have knowledge of music copyright, who is who in the music biz, who owns the main catalogues, and where to find cheaper alternative songs or recordings in case your budget doesn’t stretch far.”

How can someone get a job in music supervision?  Any tips?

“If you like a certain film or TV show find out who the music supervisor is and ask if you can work for them!  You can also contact directors you like who you think have a similar musical disposition to you and reach out to them via social media or at film festivals. Their names can be found on IMDB or in the credits at the end of various productions. Don’t be shy!”

If you want to learn more about music supervision or “sync licensing” – putting music to visual content – you can read more on the BPI’s website or check out our interview with Warner Music’s Sync Manager.